If you haven't already established a bedtime routine for your toddler, now's a great time to do it. When you follow a set pattern every night, he'll quickly come to appreciate the consistency and predictability.
"Your toddler will be more relaxed if he knows what's coming next," says sleep expert Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night. "The more relaxed he is, the more likely he'll go to bed easily and fall asleep quickly."
Stick to your routine as best you can even when you're not home — it can make it easier for your toddler to settle down in unfamiliar surroundings.
What you include in your ritual is up to you. There's the standard bath, putting on pajamas, reading a story, and having a cuddle, or you can play a quiet game. Just make sure you choose something that helps calm your toddler — not riles him up.
And while you can certainly start your ritual in the bathroom or the living room, it should end in your toddler's bedroom. It's important to teach your toddler that his room is a nice place to be, not just where he's "banished" at bedtime.
If he gets upset as he sees you walk out the door after you tuck him in, tell him you'll be back to check on him in a few minutes. In all likelihood, he'll be fast asleep by the time you return.
The following bedtime routine ideas are ones that have worked for other BabyCenter parents. You'll probably find something here that's right for you.
And remember that a bedtime ritual is often good for parents, too. It's a special time set aside for you to spend with your toddler, something you can plan on.
Let off some steam
Sometimes it helps to let your toddler get any pent-up energy out of his system before you try to settle him down for the night.
"Our son runs around naked like a crazy man for about 20 minutes chasing us and the dog before having a long bath," say Chris and Kira Palmer of Vandalia, Illinois.
As long as you follow up any rowdy play with something calmer and quieter — like a bath and bedtime story — before he goes to sleep, it can be the first step toward bedtime.
Give him a soak
One of the most popular parts of many bedtime rituals is a bath. Sitting in warm water is a soothing experience, and getting your toddler warm and clean and dry is a great way to ease him into bedtime. A bath is also a wonderful way for your partner to spend some special time with your child.
"Every night my husband takes a bath with our daughter," says Lissa Chambers. "He's been doing it since the first night she could have a tub bath, and she loves it almost as much as he does."
If your toddler gets excited during baths or doesn't enjoy them, it's probably better to leave them out of the nighttime ritual. Instead, have a quiet cuddle or read a story. Read tips on baby bath safety.
Take care of business
Your toddler's getting-ready-for-bed routine can include washing his face and hands, brushing his teeth, a diaper change or trip to the potty (if he's old enough), and getting into his pajamas.
It's important to start the habit of teeth brushing at a young age so your toddler gets used to it, says sleep expert Jodi Mindell. See our pointers on how to take care of your toddler's teeth before he can brush them himself.
Here's a tip for saving time — and fuss: Once your child is old enough to have preferences about what he wears, let him choose which pajamas he wants to wear. Give him two options and let him pick one.
Play a game
Playing a quiet game in the living room or on the floor of your toddler's bedroom is a great way to spend some fun time with him before bed. Older toddlers may enjoy simple puzzles or card games, and younger ones are always entertained by peekaboo.
Your game can be as simple as taking turns saying the ABCs or counting to ten — whatever entertains your toddler without getting him overly excited is fine. Before he gets into bed, hide something there for him to find — a toy, a postcard, an interesting object — and then talk about it together. (Just be sure to remove the object before you leave.)
Have a chat
Bedtime is a nice chance for toddlers and their parents to spend some time talking to each other.
Discuss your daily routine and ask your child to tell you about the best and worst things that happened to him, as well as anything that's worrying him. This may help him work through any anxieties or fears he's harboring and let him get a better night's sleep. Bedtime is also a great time to say prayers if you want to.
Of course, you don't have to wait until your toddler can give you a detailed narrative of the day's events. Review his day for him until he's really able to contribute.
"After our son Jacob gets into his crib, one of us sits in a rocking chair next to the crib with the light off and we talk about his day," says Heidi Sheppard of Lafayette, Louisiana. "Sometimes he contributes too. It's a wonderful way to increase his vocabulary, and it relaxes him."
Say goodnight, moon
Many toddlers enjoy going around the room or the house and saying goodnight to favorite toys, people, and other objects, much as the baby rabbit and his mother do in Goodnight Moon.
"Our favorite bedtime ritual is saying good-bye and goodnight to the sun," says Kim Callahan of Burlington, Vermont. Know when to say when, though: If your toddler insists on saying goodnight to every brick in the living room wall, it's a safe bet he's trying to put off bedtime a little longer.
Read a bedtime story
Rivaling the bath as an all-time favorite nighttime ritual is reading a bedtime story.
"We rock our son Adam and read two to four books to him every night," says Kira Palmer of Vandalia, Illinois. "He's been read to since he was 8 weeks old, and we've made it part of his bedtime routine since he was 9 months old."
Not only will your toddler learn new words — studies have shown that regular exposure to a large vocabulary leads to stronger language skills — but he'll also benefit from time spent with you.
For a toddler, choosing a bedtime story is another chance to assert some control over the nightly routine.
"I let my 3-year-old choose a story every night," explains Susan Grayson of Aberdeen, Scotland. "That often means I have to read the same story for a week or so, but it makes her feel important being able to pick her own book."
See a list of our favorite bedtime stories. And check out our quiz on the importance of reading to your toddler.
Sing a song
Singing a lullaby is a time-tested way to help a sleepy toddler drift off. He loves hearing his favorite sound — your voice — and the soft, soothing melody can calm him.
"I choose two different songs every night and then close with our 'night-night' song," says Susan Webb of San Francisco, who has two boys. "The kids have come to recognize that as the final goodbye. Sometimes they sing along, but mostly they just like to hear me sing to them."
If you can't remember the words or tune to your favorite ditties, turn to our lullaby library for a refresher course.
Play some music
Playing lullabies, classical music, or other kids' favorites while you settle your toddler to sleep — and then leaving it on after you leave — can help ease his transition from being awake to falling asleep. And sound machines can soothe children, with the added benefit of drowning out outside noise.
Try not to let music become a crutch, though. Your toddler needs to learn to fall asleep on his own, as a result of establishing good sleep habits, rather than depending on any special noises or gimmicks.
Leave a light on
When you're ready to tuck in your toddler, have one last cuddle, and say goodnight, turn the room lights off and, if your child is over 2, flip on a nightlight. Many children this age get disoriented and upset when they wake at night in a dark room and can't see anything — shedding a little light on things can help tremendously.( source-baby center)